Tag Archives: Seth Rollins

SummerSlam – Barclays Centre – 20/08/17

WWE SummerSlam logo25 years ago WWE (then WWF) presented what was then their biggest live event, with 80,000 people in London’s Wembley Stadium for the 1992 SummerSlam event.

While the show was a mixed bag for a few reasons it’s lived in the memory thanks to its location, the only WWE pay per view outside main land North America, and the main event which saw Bret Hart and the British Bulldog fight for the Intercontinental Championship – it was also my real doorway into the world of professional wrestling.

Now, in 2017, for its 30th edition the show has ballooned to six hours of TV time broadcast from Brooklyn New York’s Barclay’s Centre in front of 16,000 fans.

Given the running time I have had neither time, nor if I’m honest inclination, to watch the three matches on the ‘pre-show’ despite them featuring some excellent performers, so I’ll jump straight to the main show, which began with a nice music video package highlighting the night’s main events, though in comparison to the previous night’s NXT TakeOver show, this was the start of things not quite being all they could be.

John Cena vs Baron Corbin

Baron Corbin and John Cena

Baron Corbin and John Cena

With WWE biggest star kicking off the show the crowd went nuclear with a huge ‘John Cena sucks’ singalong before the usual mixed reaction once he hit the ring.

Relative newcomer Corbin meanwhile was treated to an imposingly impressive new entrance with new video effects and music suggesting maybe he still is seen as a next big bad guy character, despite the somewhat unceremonious dropping of the Money in the Bank on last week’s Smackdown TV show.

While Cena continued to get a mixed reaction and Corbin is developing into a brilliantly hate-able heel, the match the pair put on couldn’t have been much more flat. Mostly stalling for time or punch/kick offence and defence it felt like they’d worked out the character beats and nothing else.

Baron Corbin chokeslams John Cena

Corbin chokeslams Cena

It struck watching this as well that Corbin only has a handful of moves in his arsenal so once these were exhausted and repeated several times it was hard to engage – even what could have been a nice chokeslam/backbreaker move was too loose to be anything much.

With a third attempt at his slide around the ring post Corbin was caught in Cena’s AA, giving Cena a win that did little for the part-time megastar and all but killed any legitimacy of Corbin as the killer heel he’s had the look of becoming, making for a damp squib of an opening match.

Smackdown Women’s Championship
Naomi (c) vs Natalya

Natalya and Naomi

Flying headscissor from Naomi

After the first of many cringe inducing commercials featuring WWE superstars we got the culmination of a feud that we never really wanted between Naomi and Natalya.

From her entrance it looked like Natalya was once again basing her character off her heritage as a member of the Hart family with a nice Hart Foundation style jacket and this was carried on through JBL’s commentary and into the match’s conclusion.

Naomi meanwhile was the brightly coloured, neon cartoon with no real substance she has been for the last nine months or so.

Despite a few nice moments it was hard to escape the feeling of the two competitors going through the motions with no real sense that this was for a big prize and more the feeling that it was a casual exhibition.

Natalya applies the Sharpshooter to Naomi

Natalya applies the Sharpshooter to Naomi

That said Natalya has got some of the best snap suplexes in the WWE today and Naomi delivered a nice blockbuster off the steps to the floor, but that was about it for highlights.

The end came following an unconvincing sequence into a first Sharpshooter before Naomi missed a split legged moonsault, allowing the challenger to once again apply the leg lock and become champion.

While it’s always nice to see Natalya rewarded as by far the longest standing member of the women’s division, it’s hard to escape the fact that she never quite convinces as an aggressive champion and once again this match fell flat because of that.

Big Cass vs Big Show
with Enzo Amore locked in a shark cage above the ring

Enzo in the 'shark cage'

Enzo in the ‘shark cage’

Before I get to the match it’s hard to escape the feeling that last year WWE paid a fair amount for the ‘shark cage’ as its come into play at least three times in recent months when the gimmick really is a relic of the old territory system, and I find it hard to remember it being used in the last 20 years or more.

Anyway, the match seemed designed to establish Big Cass as the new mid card big man by Big Show ‘passing the torch’ in a sense, however with Enzo really the focus as the one of the trio who’s particularly good on the mic, it’s been a very unbalanced affair.

That was highlighted here as Enzo cut his usual promo before being hoisted in the cage but it felt like treading water compared to his past highs, just hinting that the split of this team has happened far too soon and done damage to both characters.

With Big Show having a ‘broken hand’ he was limited even further than usual and this made the bulk of the match rather boring, and the crowd let the performers know it.

Big Cass with a big boot on the Big Show

Big Cass with a big boot on the Big Show

Some slight excitement cage came as Enzo squeezed out of the cage only to get a big boot to the head before Cass got the win with his Empire Elbow drop on the giant.

Unfortunately this all left the crowd dead and I’m just hoping it hasn’t entirely derailed both Enzo and Cass’ build, but I fear it may have, while Big Show remains a slightly more than past it novelty act.

Backstage we got a brief skit with Kurt Angle and Daniel Bryan which felt entirely superfluous and seemed to return to trying to hype competition between Raw and Smackdown which always feels pointless as, no matter how much we suspend our disbelief, we all know they are owned by the same company….

Randy Orton vs Rusev

Rusev throws Randy Orton

Rusev throws Orton

It’s hard to not find something a bit distasteful in Orton’s current run fighting stereotypical ‘evil foreigners’ given his appearance as an entitled white man in the current political climate, so, when Rusev attacked before the bell it looked like we might get a good fight to distract from that.

Unfortunately this was short-lived and once both men were back in the ring and the match officially began, Orton hit his RKO ‘from outta nowhere’ for the win in a moment reminiscent of Cena’s earlier victory with an established star going over a newer performer who really should be elevated.

Raw Women’s Championship
Alexa Bliss (c) vs Sasha Banks

Alexa Bliss dives at Sasha Banks

Bliss dives at Banks

With the match originally slated to see Bayley challenging Bliss things were rather rapidly put together but Banks has remained a perennial contender since her arrival on Raw and seems to have regained her old form in recent weeks as well.

Despite a rather ridiculous (even by WWE standards) piece of entrance attire the match soon settled into a nice pace with both women on top form.

While the middle section of the match was a little flat there were some nice spots including a Code Red being reversed into a turnbuckle slam.

Sasha lock in the Bank Statement

Sasha lock in the Bank Statement

It looked like Bliss would retain as she hit her Twisted Bliss top rope spinning splash but Banks survived and, after a slightly awkward but ok sequence got the submission win with her Bank Statement crossface to become a four-time champion.

While not perfect this, thankfully, upped the ante somewhat for the night and Banks winning was a nice twist that hopefully will reinvigorate both her and the slightly flagging women’s division – if I had my way this would slowly lead to a heel turn and feud with Bayley when she’s recovered, but that’s maybe a bit too much fantasy booking.

Bray Wyatt vs ‘The Demon’ Finn Balor

'The Demon' Finn Balor

‘The Demon’ Finn Balor

While I think Finn’s ‘alter ego’ of The Demon should be more of a surprise (I understand that the WWE marketing machine means it can’t really be) it was good to see him back in the body paint for the first time since last SummerSlam and his entrance got a huge reaction and several chants, including a nice ‘too sweet’ one from the clearly knowledgeable fans.

From the start Balor was playing a more intense version of himself to represent the Demon and Wyatt played up to it with shock exactly as you’d want at the start.

After a truly amazing looking tope con hilo from Balor, Wyatt took control with a nasty looking suplex to the floor and then a hanging top rope shoulder/neckbreaker.

Finn Balor attacks Bray Wyatt

Balor attacks Wyatt

Despite a few flurries Bray kept the upper hand and the crowd really started to get behind Finn as they properly came alive for the first time since Cena left.

With a nice story building throughout the climax came when Balor ‘countered’ Bray’s ‘spiderwalk’ taunt and hit his standard ending sequence of Sling Blade, Shotgun Dropkick and Coup De Grace for the win.

While this climax came a little fast given the rest of the pace and it didn’t all seem to be quite running at full force, at this point this was by far the best match and continued the previous one on building the excitement of the show – also special mention has to go to Corey Graves for his Gorilla Monsoon moment in commentary.

Raw Tag Team Championship
‘The Bar’ Sheamus & Cesaro (c) vs Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose 

Seth Rollins with a frog splash on Sheamus

Rollins with a frog splash on Sheamus

One of the most naturally exciting things on WWE TV in recent months has been the build to the reunion of former Shield members Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose.

This has been well-balanced with their feud with the tag team champions to lead to a match with a real story behind it (in many ways the first of the night).

The match itself was some thing of a masterclass for modern WWE tag team wrestling with near nonstop action from both teams building a great story of the challengers rediscovering their old rapport in the face of the more cohesive champions.

Highlights came with a chaotic flurry from Ambrose in contrast to the more controlled Rollins, a double suicide dive from the challengers and Cesaro heading out into the crowd to dispose of a beach ball (a move which has caused a surprising amount of controversy since).

Rollins hits a superkick on Sheamus

Rollins hits a superkick on Sheamus

As the match went on Cesaro showed his abilities with the best Sharpshooter since the days of the Hart family and the best crossface since Benoit.

The end came with a great sequence that began with a top rope hurricanrana from Rollins and finished with the double attack of Seth’s Rainmaker/V-Trigger rip-chord knee strike into Ambrose Dirty Deeds DDT securing the championships for the reformed Shield members and providing one if the highlight matches of the night while also giving some great fan service for those who remember the hey day of the Hounds of Justice.

WWE United States Championship
AJ Styles (c) vs Kevin Owens
Special guest referee Shane McMahon

AJ Styles and Kevin Owens

Intense action between Styles and Owens

Another match that has come with a good and lengthy build, this felt like a final chapter as Styles and Owens have traded the title a few times now.

Added to this Shane McMahon as referee brings a convincing extra intrigue given his relationship with both men in the past.

While it started off stiff and intense with a pre match brawl, pulled apart by McMahon and setting up his role in proceedings, it was, of course Owens who became the vocal heel aggressor.

Both men got their chance to show their high spots and a particular highlight came with a sequence going form a missed Asai Moonsuslt, a countered pop up power bomb and a huge Ushigoroshi for a two count.

AJ Styles hits the Phenomenal Forearm

Styles hits the Phenomenal Forearm

Shortly after that the guest referee came into play as McMahon was caught in the crossfire of a springboard 450 splash, so missed the count off Owens’ pop up powerbomb followed by missing the tap out to a Styles Calf Crusher.

Following more great sequences and near falls from a Styles Clash to another pop up powerbomb, Owens got into an argument with McMahon allowing AJ to get the decisive victory with a Phenomenal Forearm and another tightly delivered Styles Clash.

Given the ending, I hope this is a full stop on what’s been a great feud that has set up Styles as a confirmed champion (not that he wasn’t before) and built on the dissent of Owens with the management.

WWE World Championship
Jinder Mahal w/ The Singh Brothers (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura

Shinsuke Nakamura and Jinder Mahal

Nakamura hits a spin kick on Mahal

One thing that’s often been said of the WWE is that, for a company with World in its name, it’s rather solidly North America-centric.

2016 and 2017 have seen this change somewhat though with the Cruiser Weight Classic and United Kingdom Championship Tournament through to Black vs Itami the previous night at NXT TakeOver, and this match, pitting the Indian (well actually Canadian but ‘of Indian heritage’) champion Mahal against modern Japanese legend, the King of Strong Style, Nakamura.

Throughout it was clear how over Nakamura is with this crowd and, equally, they were opposed to Mahal in just the right way something that was echoed in their clash of in-ring styles.

Unfortunately, while a clash can sometimes lead to something great, here it just came across and Nakamura doing all the work in both giving and selling in the face of Mahal’s ponderous, traditional WWE muscleman approach.

Kinshasa!

Kinshasa!

There was a nice spot where Nakamura countered a slam into a triangle choke hold and, with a Kinshasa to the back of the head, he looked poised to claim the championship.

This was when the a Singh brothers got involved, only to be removed by Shinsuke, but giving Mahal the opening to get the win with his Khallas cobra clutch slam.

This clearly shocked the crowd as it did come out of nowhere and the concept of Mahal overcoming Nakamura is a stretch of the imagination even with the interference, sadly leaving it all fall a little too flat. But Nakamura came out of things looking great anyway and I have to admit to enjoying Mahal’s run as champion so far, especially now its veered away from purely ‘foreigner = bad guy’ territory.

WWE Universal Championship
Brock Lesnar w/Paul Heyman (c) vs Roman Reigns vs Samoa Joe vs Braun Strowman

Brock Lesnar suplexes Roman Reigns

Lesnar suplexes Reigns

As the challengers came out the responses were all strong and what we’d expect from the New York crowd; a mixed response but with chants for Joe, a mostly positive response for Strowman and a deafening chorus of boos for Reigns.

Then the champion and his advocate, as always getting a positive reaction due to the sheer freakish nature of Lesnar.

The match itself was a non stop chaotic battle between all four, literally a human demolition derby to steal a phrase, but as soon as it spilled to the floor it became Braun Strowman’s showcase.

While keeping Joe and Reigns at bay ‘The Monster Amongst Men’ drove Lesnar through two tables before dumping another on top of the champion causing him to be stretchered out with a laughing Strowmam shouting taunts after him in a moment that will be remembered for a long time.

Braun Strowman drives Brock Lesnar through a table

Strowman drives Lesnar through a table

For a while it settled down into a triple threat style, but largely with Strowman maintaining the upper hand (despite the use of steel stairs by Reigns) before Lesnar returned, squared off against his new nemesis, and proceeded to fight off Joe and Reigns with his usual attacks.

Strowman again gained the upper hand only to be hit with a Superman Punch from Reigns, but this allowed Lesnar to hit his F5 spinning slam on Reigns and, somewhat unexpectedly, retain the gold.

While the match itself was the highlight of the show in just the way a main event between four heavyweights should be, and was an insane exhibition from Strowman, all four men looked great and even Lesnar felt reinvigorated now there is a real looking challenge in his path which is just what the WWE needed at this stage.

Brock Lesnar lifts Samoa Joe for an F5

Lesnar lifts Joe for an F5

As a whole, while the show was horrendously overlong (something it shares in common with WrestleMania), but from the Raw women’s match on it was at least enjoyable or better and with the Raw tag team title match, the US title match and the Universal title match being some genuinely great bouts all in different styles.

So, while the 30th SummerSlam could have been better, the good points were exactly what WWE does best, delivered by the performers in the best way and setting up at least the next three months stories very nicely just as it should, and it created a new star in the form of The Monster Amongst Men, Braun Strowman.

Photos from WWE.com

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Wrestlemania 33 – Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida – 02/04/17

WWE WrestleMania 33 logoAfter last year’s controversial and over long show, WWE looked to restore some of the  real grandeur of their premier event as WrestleMania returned to Orlando.

Much like last year the previous night’s NXT Takeover event had set a high target for the wrestling to aim for, but of course WrestleMania is so much more than that, as a broader entertainment spectacle.

Even in the daylight of the pre-show the stadium looked huge with the open air setting and stage making it appear in some ways larger than last year’s show in Dallas (though or course it wasn’t) and as the preliminary matches kicked off the Citrus Bowl was already nicely full.

Kickoff

WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Neville (c) vs Austin Aries

For the first time since 2004 a version of the WWE Cruiserweight Championship was defended at WrestleMania with the continuing rebirth of the lighter weight division of WWE reaching new heights thanks to both men involved here.

Austin Aries and Adrian Neville

Aries goes for a hurricanrana on Neville

As the bell rang there were big chants for Aries before the duo set out at a steady but fast pace. The story of the match saw Neville keep a step ahead of Aries’ well known offence, including nice counters of the challengers trademark low dropkick and heat seeking missile suicide dive, before Aries found a way around the counters.

Neville continued to build in his vicious heel persona that has seen him reach a new level as a performer in WWE, highlighted here with some stomps and sick looking snap and deadlift German suplexes along with some great high-flying in the form of a Phoenix splash.

Aries got his fair share of offence in too with a particularly nice missile dropkick, a discuss ‘five-arm’ out of nowhere and his classic 450 splash.

Austin Aries and Adrian Neville

Neville suplexes Aries

Across the match it was a great example of competition and character coming together to create a compelling story with exciting in-ring action, exactly what all wrestling, but particularly the cruiserweights, should be doing.

The ending came with some more great heel work from Neville as he attacked Aries’ recently injured eye allowing him to connect with his Red Arrow twisting splash to retain his title in a match that allowed both men to show their best and make quite an impact despite the early slot.

Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal

Going into to this match it looked fairly predictable that Braun Strowman would be its centrepiece following his run in recent months destroying pretty much anyone who gets in his way, so, as it began with Strowman and Big Show tossing competitors out left, right and centre all seemed on track.

Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

Battle Royal

Then, in a real surprise both big men were eliminated in fairly swift fashion, suddenly changing the whole complexion of the match and allowing newcomer, NXT wrestler and Sanity team member, Killian Dain, to put in a great showing.

Along with Dain, Dolph Ziggler had some highlight moments of barely staying in the match but in the end it came down to the improbable trio of Dain, Jinder Mahal and Mojo Rawley.

With Dain incapacitated briefly Mojo and Mahal headed out of the ring and Jinder got in a war of words with American footballer and ‘friend of Mojo’, Rob Gronkowski.

Back in the ring Gronkowski attacked Mahal and Dain allowing Mojo to get the very surprising win.

While the ending was odd and Rawley would have been far from my first choice of winner, it was good to see it at least went to an up and coming talent. Otherwise though the match was largely forgettable and messy, but that is often the nature of a battle royal and why they rarely live up to the hype.

WWE Intercontinental Championship
Dean Ambrose (c) vs Baron Corbin

Baron Corbin and Dean Ambrose

Ambrose delivers a flying elbow to Corbin

As this match was announced my first thought was ‘why is this on the kick off show’, but I guess there is an argument that it would be a good higher mid-level match to encourage more viewers on to the main show. Also it seems to have been swapped with the Smackdown Women’s Championship match following protest from fans.

Anyway onto the match itself and not the surrounding circumstance.

Ambrose and Corbin have built up an enjoyable and physical rivalry in recent months and continued it right away here with a quick and strong start from both before Ambrose was sent ribs first into the ring post giving Corbin the upper hand and slowing the pace to his more deliberate style.

JBL’s commentary did its best to help tell the story of two unpredictable wrestlers facing off but both performers felt a little off pace with each other making it all fall a little flat.

As the match went on it picked up a little and the closing spot of Corbin’s End of Days being reversed into Ambrose’s Dirty Deeds DDT looked nice but was a little bit too little too late giving Ambrose the win in a disappointingly average affair.

WrestleMania 33

The New Day

The New Day

After the standard rendition of America The Beautiful (actually a decent performance this year) and the intro video (along with the first crowd sign of the show saying ‘We hate Roman’) this year’s hosts, The New Day, made their way down the enormous ramp.

As ever the trio were so ridiculous it was just pure entertainment, and they didn’t shy away from hinting at Xavier Wood’s recent unfortunate indiscretion in their own sly way.

Certainly The New Day were the best hosts I can remember for WrestleMania as they were never over indulgent and the segments were kept tight and brief – unlike The Rock last year which still irks.

AJ Styles vs Shane McMahon

Given the fairly hasty set up for the match it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise this was so early on the card, but considering the year Styles has had, I did expect him to be further up the bill, but then it is a stacked line up.

It was clear before both men were even in the ring that the prescribed heel/face dynamic had been switched with AJ clearly being the crowd’s favourite.

AJ Styles and Shane McMahon

Styles attempts to go Coast To Coast

The match started out with some nice psychology with Styles looking to keep it a wrestling match and both men putting in a good, if slightly basic, show of it before things broke down in to more standard fare.

Throughout it was clear that Styles was carrying McMachon through a lot of the match and a great spot highlighted this as AJ went for a springboard 450 splash which Shane countered into a triangle choke before AJ turned it into a modified Styles Clash. All Shane really had to do for this was lie the right way and tuck his head at the right time, but it still looked great.

Following the referee taking a rogue kick to the head, it became a more standard McMahon match with trash cans coming into play and some nice work around the always impressive Coast to Coast from both men before Styles got the win after a second attempt at The Phenomenal Forearm connected.

As always Shane showed himself to have a daredevil streak like few others and both men did their best to try to tell a story, though in the end it all became a little too spot to spot for my liking. With McMahon not the well conditioned athlete he was made out to me kudos must go to Styles for making it all look so good, but this left it a little flatter than expected, especially without a truly death-defying spot from Shane like his Hell In The Cell dive last year.

WWE United States Championship
Chris Jericho (c) vs Kevin Owens

Given the six month build up to this and the fact it features two of the best all rounders in WWE today there was every chance this contest for the United States Championship could steal the show and, as a straight wrestling match, it probably did.

Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho

Jericho with a flying elbow on Owens

Following an excellent hype video Owens hit the ring in full heel, prizefighter mode while Jericho, complete with flashing LED laced scarf was doing a more face version of what he’s been doing for the best part of a year.

Starting off with a brawl it felt like a real feud with both men giving their all to come out on top. Jericho gained the early advantage but it was back and forth throughout with an early highlight being a Cannonball on the apron into the ring post from Owens to Jericho.

As always Owens trash talking was loud and on point building the story and character and Jericho did his fair share of that too.

As the match went on the pair countered each other’s high-flying moves in a great sequence that built the idea of how well they know each other, before some innovative versions of their signature moves and holds were traded including a true highlight of the night moment where Owens escaped a loss by getting just a finger onto the bottom rope.

The end came following Owens trademark powerbomb into the ring apron rounding off a match that was tough, hard-hitting, entertaining and told a story that made sense. Certainly on most shows this would have been the night’s highlight, but this is WrestleMania….

WWE Raw Women’s Championship
Bayley (c) vs Nia Jax vs Sasha Banks vs Charlotte Flair

After the ‘evolution’ of WWE’s women’s division at last year’s WrestleMania things have continued to develop with the women’s championships on both Raw and Smackdown becoming more credible than anytime in the last two decades.

Triple powerbomb to Nia Jax

Triple powerbomb to Nia Jax

With this in mind a lot hinged on this match pitting the top four female performers from Raw against one another in an elimination style contest, something the WWE finally seem to have realised is a more dramatic way of doing a multi-person contest than a single fall to a finish.

The champion, Bayley, was first out and, just to highlight how much more store is being set in this division she had a scaled up version of her usual entrance complete with fireworks, while the three other women all had suitable added extras too.

Being out first, though unconventional for the champion, allowed the story to begin well before the bell as Bayley played her young, slightly naive character to perfection looking increasingly concerned as her generally more imposing challengers made their way to the ring.

The match itself began with Nia Jax in dominating form, using her size to out power all three other competitors in a way that, more than ever, established her monstrous character.

This is a totally new story for a women’s match in WWE and was well told with some nice spots from all involved culminating in a pair of triple team attacks to Jax, including a nasty looking back suplex/big boot combination and triple powerbomb, that saw her eliminated first but elevated her character.

Following a spectacular twisting moonsalut from the top rope to the floor by Flair, the second part of the match settled down to the revival of the feud between her and Sasha Banks.

Bayley and Charlotte Flair

Bayley fights out of the Figure 8

It was good to see The Boss apparently back to 100% after six months plagued by niggling injuries and her and Charlotte put on a good show until Sasha’s head connected with a partially exposed turnbuckle bolt to give Charlotte the pin.

The ultimate fan, Bayley, against the regal and entitled Flair is the stuff of wrestling story perfection and, having feuded for most of the year now, this was the perfect pairing to round off this match.

As usual the contest was focussed around Flair attacking Bayley’s leg to set up her Figure 8 Leg Lock but it was Bayley who got the win after a slightly sloppy tree of woe spot saw Flair hit the turnbuckle she used against Banks, allowing Bayley to hit a Randy Savage style Atomic Elbow Drop to retain her title.

While it was a little lose in places and felt somewhat short, all four women gave it their all and some nice new work came to the fore from all of them. Bayley winning felt like the right way to make it a genuinely celebratory affair and Charlotte’s loss should play into the further development of this storyline in a new direction.

WWE Hall of Fame recap

The Friday night before WrestleMania saw the 2017 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony take place and, as something of a break in the action, the new inductees were introduced to the crowd. For once it was hard to argue with the deserving nests of all of them with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, Beth Phoenix, Diamond Dallas Page and, of course, Kurt Angle amongst them. And it was great hearing the crowd chant ‘you suck’ at Angle once again as we got a truly mind-blowing shot of the 75,000 strong throng over Kurt’s shoulder from the stage.

WWE Raw Tag Team Championships
Ladder Match
Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson (c) vs Enzo Amore & Big Cass vs Sheamus and Cesaro

The Hardy Boyz

The Hardy Boyz

With all three competing teams in the ring and ready to go The New Day’s music hit and the trio came onto the stage looking ready to join the action, but they were actually there to introduce a surprise fourth team – the returning duo of Matt and Jeff, The Hardy Boyz!

Having been out of WWE the best part of the decade, and having made a new reputation for themselves in TNA and Ring of Honour, the brothers from North Carolina were greeted by one of the biggest responses of the night with plenty of Matt’s trademark ‘DELETE!’ chants leading to the night’s first real moments as even watching from the other side of the world I got chills.

Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson (c) vs Enzo Amore & Big Cass vs Sheamus and Cesaro vs The Hardy Boyz

As expected the match began with chaos and rarely settled down, but it was the Hardyz who got the first advantage with a flurry of their signature spots as the crowd continued to chant for Broken Matt and Brother Nero (and there was indeed the feeling that they ‘knew you’d come’).

Sheamus, Cesaro and Big Cass

Sheamus, Cesaro and Big Cass

As a match like this always will be it was a non-stop spot-fest, and a hugely enjoyable one with all four teams having their moments and getting close to claiming the belts but, in the end, it came down to Jeffrey Nero Hardy hitting a death-defying Swanton Bomb from the top of the top of a genuinely 20ft tall ladder while Matt unhooked the belts.

Given the fact the Hardyz only lost the Ring of Honour tag team titles the previous night to The Young Bucks in another ladder match, this was truly a historic moment in wrestling – there’s not been something that felt like this at WrestleMania in a long time.

John Cena & Nikki Bella vs The Miz & Maryse

With Miz on the hottest streak of his career as one of WWE’s most genuinely hatable heels we love to hate, and Cena the ever-present guy we hate to love, this match had an interesting dynamic.

The Miz and John Cena

Miz hits Cena with a kick

Miz continued his amazing heel work to such a degree that he got genuine ‘Miz is Awesome’ chants from the crowd and played up to it brilliantly, while unfortunately, Jerry Lawler sitting in on commentary was awful.

The match itself was more about the entertainment side than the wrestling and it was short, likely to cover Maryse’s limitations and Nikki’s potential ongoing neck injury, and the outcome of Cena and Nikki getting the win with their simultaneous finishers was entirely expected.

After the match Cena picked up a mic and, rounding off what feels like it’s been both a TV storyline and real life one, proposed to Nikki Bella.

While the audience in the stadium seemed less than impressed by this to me it brought to mind the Macho Man and Elizabeth story from the late 80s and, while it didn’t connect with me, it’s all part of the big entertainment tapestry that has always made up WrestleMania.

Unsanctioned Match
‘The King of Kings’ Triple H vs ‘The Kingslayer’ Seth Rollins

Following an excellent hype video, accompanied by a less than excellent song from Metallica’s Hardwired… To Self Destruct, Triple H headed to the ring in his usual over the top fashion for WrestleMania – this year on a huge motor-trike accompanied buy a fleet of police motorbikes.

Triple H

Triple H makes his way to the ring

To try to match this Rollins came out, playing up his new Kingslayer moniker, in gold attire mimicking the Jamie Lannister and the King’s Guard in Game of Thrones and with a flaming torch which he used to illuminate the massive ramp in a spot that was probably better on paper than in practice.

The match itself was based around the injury to Seth’s knee which has been the basis of the whole build, but none the less it kicked off with a suitable pace and level of aggression for an intense feud and the pair soon spilled to the floor.

The pace slowed down when Triple H hit a DDT to Seth on the announcers’ table before attacking his knee with a chair and going into methodical hold mode.

Keeping the knee story going Rollins tried to hit some of his signature spots but his knee gave way before he managed to pull out a Buckle Bomb.

Seth Rollins and Triple H

Triple H attacks Rollins with a chair

Things went back and forth with Seth surviving a spinebuster and having his knee stomped on with a chair to hit a Superplex/Falcon Arrow combination as the match properly reached its peak and there was a feeling this was a real career making moment for Seth.

With a sledgehammer in play there was more back and forth with Seth surviving a Pedigree and hitting a Phoenix Splash before the end came as Triple H accidentally sent Stephanie McMahon through a table and Rollins hit his Pedigree to slay the King of Kings.

In all, this was a great match that rounded off a story that’s been going on for several years, mixing the best of what the two men do while still sticking to the legitimate knee injury angle. As I said earlier this felt custom-made to confirm Seth in that rare group at the top of the company for a long time to come.

As something of a break following the first ‘main event’ type match we got the obligatory performance by Flo Rida and his comrades, as ever I really didn’t pay much attention to this taking the opportunity for a break as we were now three hours into the show.

WWE Chanpionship
Bray Wyatt (c) vs Randy Orton

With 75,000 people in the stadium Wyatt’s sea of fireflies was a genuinely spectacular sight as the champion made his way to the ring. Orton on the other hand seemed back to his bland and ill-fitting face persona from a couple of years ago that has never really worked for me.

Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton

Wyatt stalks Orton

While the match started off with a good intensity for this twisted rivalry, it soon became more about Wyatt’s mystical mind games which didn’t quite ring true in context, though projecting writhing maggots, cockroaches and such on the canvas did make for a cool visual.

After that it became a game of who can hit their finisher properly first with Bray winning that but only getting a two count as the match struggled on in second gear.

The end came with an RKO ‘out of nowhere’ in disappointingly predictable fashion, giving Orton the world title and stalling what felt like a promising storyline before it really even got going. For the most part I didn’t have any gripes with the booking of this show but this was an exception and it seems the live crowd agreed – but we’ll see where it goes from here…

WWE Universal championship
Goldberg (c) vs Brock Lesnar (with Paul Heyman)

With Goldberg having become champion following less than 10 minutes (and that’s being generous) of ring time the crowd were far from on side with the returning ‘hero’ going into this contest.

Goldberg and Brock Lesnar

Lesnar stands over the fallen Goldberg

Again this was far from a lengthy contest, but compared to their last one on one match it was epic and it certainly outshone their controversial bout at WrestleMania 20. 

Keeping it short meant it was all high impact with more than 10 German suplexes, numerous Spears (including one through the barricade) a Jackhammer and, finally, an F5 giving Lesnar the win and the Universal Championship.

While Goldberg took more big impacts than I expected it was otherwise what I would have predicted and was reasonably satisfying for that.

While I’m still not a fan of the belt being on a part-time performer this kind of contest is what these guys are built to do, but the moment of the match went to Corey Graves on commentary for his line ‘Superman was forced to kneel before Zod!’

Smackdown Women’s Championship
Six-Pack Challenge Match
Alexa Bliss (c) vs Becky Lynch vs Mickie James vs Carmella (with James Ellsworth) vs Natalya vs Naomi 

Following the very good, if slightly short, Raw women’s match it was hard to escape the fact that, on paper, this looked a little like a throw back to the Divas days, with all available female performers thrown together between two of the top main events.

Naomi flies over the top rope

Naomi flies over the top rope

While it certainly had hints of that it was also clear that all of these women were giving it their all. While the sheer number of moving parts involved meant a few moments were a little sloppy it was still enjoyable with Becky Lynch getting a good showing and Alexa Bliss continuing to prove why she’s become one of the most valuable performers on the Smackdown roster.

The end came with a nice roll up counter into a submission from Naomi on Bliss giving the hometown girl the win and her second Smackdown Women’s Championship.

As a whole the match was enjoyable but felt a little too much like a break and palette cleanser between main events despite the efforts of the performers.

Continuing the respite before the final match The New Day were back to announce the official attendance, a venue record of 75,245 (though I’m always dubious of WWE’s announced attendances giving the overblown figures quoted in the past).

As a whole New Day were the best hosts I remember for WrestleMania and the setting was one of the best too with the outdoor Citrus Bowl feeling bigger and grander than last year’s 100,000 seater stadium in Dallas.

No Holds Barred Match
The Undertaker vs Roman Reigns

Following a genuinely excellent hype video, and with Jim Ross joining Michael Cole and John Bradshaw Layfield at the commentary table, the scene was set for a match with a lot riding on it.

Roman Reigns and The Undertaker

Undertaker delivers punches to Reigns

There’s a lot of baggage here, not only around the fact that this was going on last, but also Roman Reigns and how his position over the last few years has been the cause of constant debate. While I’m not his biggest fan, given what’s going on here I’m going to do my best to remain neutral and give the ‘Big Dog’ his due as a much improved performer as he faces off against a genuine legend.

Of course Roman was greeted by a huge negative reaction from this die-hard crowd, while Undertaker’s impressive but not overdone arrival was the thing great WrestleMania moments are made of, and hearing JR’s voice over the top just made it exactly what it should be (he remains the voice of pro-wrestling for me).

As expected things started as a brawl with Taker getting the upper hand and quickly throwing Reigns from the ring with a shout of ‘it’s still my yard’. This went back and forth, in and out of the ring, before the big spots came into play with Roman taking a chokeslam on one table before recovering to spear the Deadman through another.

The Undertaker legdrops Roman Reigns

The Undertaker legdrops Roman Reigns

Of course this was Undertaker’s moment to sit up, Michael Myers like, and the match kicked up a gear into a stiff affair before The Last Ride was delivered but only lead to a two count.

A steel chair them came into play with Roman taking the first stiff shots to his back before escaping a pair of chokeslams by rolling out of the ring.

Back in the ring Roman hit a pair of Superman Punches but a third was countered into a chokeslam on a chair following by a Tombstone Piledriver for a near fall and a great shocked reaction from the Undertaker.

At this point it was clear, even more so than before, which way this match was going and the crowd were clearly not happy, finding the energy for many boos and ‘bullshit’ chants nearly seven hours into the event.

Tombstone to Roman Reigns

Tombstone to Reigns

More Superman Punches were followed by a spear but Taker managed to briefly lock in his Hell’s Gate gogoplata submission before Roman again got the advantage and used the chair on the Deadman.

After some stiff sounding shots to the back Reigns implored the Undertaker to stay down before getting another close fall from a spear. 

With Taker unable to sit up but struggling to his feet Reigns connected with a final ‘super spear’ after several rebounds off the ropes to deliver the Undertaker only his second loss out of 25 matches at WrestleMania.

At this point I wasn’t sure if I was shocked, exhausted, disappointed or a mixture of all of these things as Roman left the ring with the Undertaker lying in the centre and we cut to the highlights.

Back from the replays and the Deadman was back on his feet in his trench coat and hat.

The Undertaker

The Undertaker

After taking his time to soak in his surroundings he unfastened his gloves, removed his coat and finally laid down his hat in the middle of the ring in a bright spotlight amongst the purple tinged darkness.

This moment was the real emotional climaxes here as the Undertaker, the last link to the WWE’s Hulkamania era and one who has stood tall since then, passed into history, leaving Mark Callaway to finally head back up the ramp, after acknowledging his family at ringside for the first time, closing not only WrestleMania 33 but a genuine era in wrestling history.

While the match itself was far from either performers best, the no holds barred stipulation allowed them the freedom to successfully tell their old dog vs new dog story.

While the loss didn’t have the shock factor of the Lesnar loss at WrestleMania 30 it still felt enough like a moment. Of course what came after the match is something else and really felt like a full stop on what has been a career genuinely like no other.

Undertaker's gear in the ring

Undertaker’s gear in the ring

As a whole Wrestlemania 33 was a step up on the previous year and a very good, if again over long, show.

With no big name non-wrestling nostalgia acts it felt fresher and even the Lesnar/Goldberg match and Undertaker spectacle worked in context of a show largely championing the current roster even if the ending was rather bittersweet and it felt like the last big hero was finally gone.

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NXT Greatest Matches: Volume 1

NXT Greatest Matches blu-rayOver the last four years NXT, WWE’s ‘super-indie’ (to quote Jim Smallman of Progress Wrestling and the Tuesday Night Jaw podcast), has gone from being a training ground for stars of the future to one of the most respected and interesting wrestling brands or promotions in its own right.

Taking a lot of the conventions of the independent wrestling scene and marrying it to WWE’s big budget look and highly formatted approach has created something different to both, that now not only allows new WWE performers to learn their craft but is providing a new route for already established indie stars to transition to the somewhat different ‘WWE style’ of wrestling and (whisper it) sports entertainment.

With all that in mind WWE have put out a DVD/Blu-ray collection of highlight matches charting NXT’s development from the crowning of their first champion in August 2012 to their Takeover: Respect event in October 2015. Most sets like this WWE release would be described as a mixed bag, but here is a solid collection of more than 8 hours at least good and predominantly pretty great matches, as has become NXT’s stock in trade.

Dusty Rhodes, Seth Rollins and Triple H

Dusty Rhodes, Seth Rollins and Triple H

The first disc charts the brands evolution from internet based show watched by a handful through the arrival of the WWE Network and up beginnings of NXT’s evolution into its own entity.

So we see a few matches from Seth Rollins that show just why he was to become the star he now he is. His championship match with Big E Langston may be the better of the two here but the tournament final for the first championship with Jinder Mahal is, of course, the more historically significant.

With this we also see Bray Wyatt, before he made it to the ‘main roster’, in a match with Chris Jericho that is again interesting. Notable in these early matches is the commentary team led by ‘JR’ Jim Ross and often featuring William Regal, that is exceptional and really serves to elevate and highlight all the performers strong points – if only the commentary on Monday Night Raw and the monthly WWE specials would do the same!

One of the most talked about early NXT matches, that set the reputation not only for the brand but for one its stars who came in from the indies is included, as Sami Zayn (who some say previously performed under a mask as El Generico) goes to war with Antonio Cesaro in a 2-out-of-3 falls match that is fantastic.

Sami Zayn and Antonio Cesaro

Zayn with the Koji Clutch on Cesaro

Zayn is the performer who’s path most tracks alongside NXT’s so we see him develop with his journey to the NXT championship in a classic against Adrian Neville and the renewal of his storied feud with Kevin Owens in a brutal show stealer. As I write this Zayn’s time in NXT has recently culminated with a match destined for Volume 2 of this collection (should it happen) as he tore the house down in Dallas against a debuting Shinsuke Nakamura.

Alongside the story of Sami Zayn we get potentially the even more influential story of NXT, its Women’s Division. While WWE was still mostly focusing on models ‘wrestling’ under the banner Divas, NXT was breaking this mold with some of the best female wrestlers in the world, including one as their lead trainer, leading to the revolution of the form that has come to the main shows at with the return of the WWE Women’s Championship at Wrestlemania 32.

Here we get the beginnings of this with Paige and Emma clashing for the NXT Women’s Championship followed by the emergence of the ‘Four Horsewomen of NXT’ Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley (the last of which is essentially a female Sami Zayn within NXT).

The Four Horsewomen at Takeover: Brooklyn

The Four Horsewomen at Takeover: Brooklyn

Disc one features classics pitting Charlotte against Natalya Neidhart and the Horsewomen squaring off in a Fatal-4-Way match for the championship, before on the second disc we see the Sasha Banks and Bayley feud highlighted with their show stealing performance from Takeover: Brooklyn that even eclipsed that night’s main event between indie heroes Finn Balor and Kevin Owens.

Disc 2 of the Blu-ray set sees NXT grow into an internationally touring brand as we see the Florida based show move out to the Arnold Classic sports expo, Wrestlemania 31 in San Jose, Beast in the East in Tokyo and Takeover: Brooklyn.

With this the third generation of stars come to the fore with Owens and Balor squaring off in a Japanese classic, Hideo Itami showing his credentials in San Jose and the aforementioned face off between Sasha Banks and Bayley in Brooklyn.

Finn Balor at Beast In The East

Finn Balor at Beast In The East

As well as the string of great matches we get an insight into the show from not only the wrestlers but the man leading the show, former WWE World Heavyweight Champion and heir apparent to the WWE as a whole, Triple H, aka Paul Levesque.

These are an interesting set of largely out of character talking heads that shed a light on the organic approach taken to NXT’s development and the apparent surprise and genuine appreciation for its growing popularity.

Notable here as well is the respect shown to the late Dusty Rhodes who seemed to steer the NXT ship in its early days and lay a lot of the groundwork for what it is now. As a parting gift from The American Dream, they don’t come much better or more suitable given his long-held hard-working, common man character.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

Owens and Zayn continue their epic feud

The Blu-ray comes with five bonus matches which, while more curios than essentials, are all at least very good and its nice to see CM Punk and Kassius Ohno (aka Chris Hero) featured given their less than great relationships with WWE today and the chance to see Corey Graves in the ring before his concussion issues is also appreciated.

While many of the matches contained here are available on the WWE Network, what this collection does, and does well, is present a potted history of NXT and its best moments in one easy to find place. Along with that are the early matches not currently available elsewhere which make this a real must own for fans of the brand, and especially fans of British wrestler William Regal as his last televised match (a stormer with Antonio Cesaro) is also included.

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WWE Raw – O2 Arena, London – 13/04/15

WWE Raw at the O2 - April 201521 years to the month since I last saw WWE (then WWF) live I returned to London to see them once more. While last time was a ‘house show’ (non-televised event) at the Royal Albert Hall headlined by Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon as they feuded over the Intercontinental Championship this was a TV taping for that night’s episode of Monday Night Raw emanating from the O2 Arena.

This being my first event since I was 11 years old I got to take in much more of the atmosphere and even as I arrived at the arena there was the real sense of ‘tribe’ amongst the fans. So the whole of the O2 genuinely felt like the ‘WWE Universe’ had taken over and I have since actually come to recognise that though the phrase is horrible, when what is represents is us fans we should really own it.

WWE fansParticular highlights of the pre-show time in the arena were random discussions about the CM Punk/AJ Lee situation with fellow fans and clapping for the group of guys with a ‘Clap if Cena sucks’ sign (they had a constant round of applause all afternoon).

As it came time to head into the arena I realised my seat was somewhat higher up than I anticipated but once I was in and sat down the vertigo soon subsided so I could enjoy the show and it wasn’t long before things started with a highlight videos on the screen of WrestleMania that started getting the crowd warmed up.

Before the matches the Superstars commentators were announced and both Michael Cole and Byron Saxton came out to Cole’s music and a chorus of boos – it seems a severe neck injury only kept Cole out of action for a week, I know he’s not a wrestler but it makes Lesnar recent attack seem a bit weak…

Superstars

Zack Ryder makes an entrance

Zack Ryder makes an entrance

Onto the matches and first out to a huge pop for the warm up matches that will air on WWE Superstars was Long Islands Iced Z himself, Zack Ryder. I have to admit to marking out a bit at this point as I hadn’t expected to see Ryder who is much underrated by the powers that be.

His opponent was Heath Slater who also got a very warm reception almost giving this match a face vs face dynamic, despite Slater’s cocky heel antics, which got a few laughs.

The match itself was a good fun one with a decent pace that included a nice Rough Ryder counter into a powerbomb, the crowd getting really into the “Woo! Woo! Woo!” for the Broski Boot and Ryder eventually winning with another Rough Ryder that got another big reaction.

Next up we got R-Truth working the crowd with his “What’s Up” call excellently and being the first of tonight’s performers to really come across much better than live on TV as everyone got involved.

Zack Ryder and Heath Slater

Zack Ryder and Heath Slater

His opponent was Curtis Axel, in full #AxelMania mode that was over massively and seems to be a great gimmick for the son of Mr. Perfect who has been somewhat in wilderness for a while – a highlight of this was the Hogan-esque shirt rip and Axel’s comment that it took 20 men to eliminate him from the Battle Royal at WrestleMania.

Their match itself was a decent of mix of things and we got to see a couple of Truth’s big spots while the crowd were super in Axel throughout with big ‘AxelMania’ chants. It eventually ended with a surprise Little Jimmy from Truth which was shame considering how much potential Axel could have, but made sense following Truth’s recent run in the IC title picture around WrestleMania.

Monday Night Raw

John Cena

John Cena

Following the arrival of the rest of the Raw commentary team, JBL and Booker T, both of whom got a big positive reaction the opening tape to Raw ran on the big screen followed by John Cena’s entrance music and huge negative reaction for the United States Champion.

The crowd for most of the night was exactly what you’d expect from a UK crowd, hugely into pretty much everything with their own contrary moments that are generally what make for some of the best shows.

Cena played up to this excellently and was the second to win me over with, at least, his excellent promo work that did get the crowd cheering when he said WrestleMania should come to London – though the cheers were in the form of the Daniel Bryan ‘Yes!’ chant.

Order was soon restored though as the UK’s own Wade ‘Bad News’ Barrett came out to answer Cena’s open challenged and played up to his hugely positive reaction pretty well – though he’s no master crowd worker like Cena.

Barret and Cena

Barret and Cena

Their match was a good one, despite the outcome being obvious from the start there were moments where they got me wondering. Again we got to see each man’s big spots, all of Cena’s got boos all of Barrett’s got huge cheers. A highlight of the match for me was a ‘punch-out’ that with appropriate boos and cheers.

The end of the match saw some nice near falls and both men hitting all their finishers (including a huge pop when Barrett survived Cena’s AA), but in the end Cena hit his weird and awkward looking ‘springboard stunner’ followed by an AA for the win, but it was still a good way to start and made Barrett look super strong for his ‘hometown’(ish) crowd.

Cena couldn’t celebrate for long though as Lana came out on the stage to a huge pop and ‘Lana’ chants and distracted Cena for Rusev to attack him from behind with a chain setting up their ‘Russian Chain’ match at Extreme Rules.

Rusev and Cena

Rusev and Cena

Interestingly the reaction for Rusev was mixed, despite his knocking out Cena, it seems at least some of the UK crowd really must hate Rusev! (For the record I quite like him, but get the dislike for the character as he is a Putin supporter, which is never a good thing – sorry to get political for a moment).

After that the Bella’s came out to not much reaction to do commentary, followed by the Divas ready for the battle royal. ‘Hometown’ girl Paige got to do her full entrance and got a huge reaction, but the match itself was all but nothing, though thankfully short as most competing aren’t the best wrestlers – sadly one of the best, Natalya, was eliminated very early.

Paige celebrates

Paige celebrates

In the end it was Paige who was left standing to become the number one contender for the Diva’s Championship which got another big reaction that lasted long enough for what I can only assume would be a commercial break moment on US TV.

This was followed by an interview spot in the ring with Paige before Naomi interrupted attacking and injuring Paige and setting her up as a new heel diva, which at least gives her a bit more character, and got the desired negative reaction from the London crowd.

One of the highlights of the show for me was next as Bray Wyatt’s noise and video sting hit and the lights went out for an on-screen Wyatt promo.

Bray Wyatt's fireflies

Bray Wyatt’s fireflies

While the actual segment didn’t make much sense and we still don’t know who he’s talking to, having the crowd waving their phone torches and singing ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’ was a sight and sound to behold and showed a sign of what Wyatt can still do even when he’s not being used very well in terms of his story.

The Ascension were out next (seemingly during an ad break moment on TV) and got a very negative reaction, I think I was probably the only person in the arena happy to see them – I still can’t explain it but I like their look, style, entrance and gimmick, it’s just a shame WWE doesn’t seem to know what to do with them.

Their opponents were the Lucha Dragons so we got the ‘Lucha!’ singalong which was fun and a reasonable ‘NXT’ chant. The match itself was a squash for the Dragons thought it didn’t feel like they really got to show off their real high spots, though Kallisto hit most of his main sequences it didn’t have the spark I’d have expected. The match ended with a contrived SDS/Swanton combo and the crowd sang along to the theme tune again.

The Ascension

The Ascension

After another break, these breaks were only really short and often saw trailers on-screen while ring crew did various things to the set and ring and rarely felt like major breaks in the show like I worried they might, it was time Roman Reigns to come and deliver a promo – not something I was looking forward to.

The segment was helped by having Booker T working with Reigns in the ring before Big Show appeared on-screen, but none the less the segment was overlong and, like the whole Reigns/Show feud, boring, and the crowd responded loudly and appropriately.

Big Show chokeslams Reigns

Big Show chokeslams Reigns

Things got a little better when Show attacked Reigns on the ramp slamming him into the taxi repeatedly finishing a chokeslam on the roof, but Show’s slow delivery and the lack of any investment from the crowd made it hard work and Show got some very uncomplimentary chants.

Randy Orton got a big positive reception next, which I still can’t really understand (he’s technically amazing, but something about him doesn’t click for me, especially when he’s meant to be a good guy) while Cesaro was greeted by not a lot, which is a shame as he is hugely talented.

Their match was soon interrupted by Tyson Kidd prompting Kane’s first appearance of the night as he represented the Authority (Trips and Steph are clearly too busy to come to the UK) and he made it a 2 on 1 handicap match.

Orton catches Kidd for the RKO

Orton catches Kidd for the RKO

This all fell a bit flat as, while there were a few nice spots including and RKO ‘out of nowhere’, Kidd seemed to be having an off night and there didn’t seem to be much point to the match beyond making the Tag Team Champions look bad as they lost to Randy Orton. Though I may be biased as I love Kidd, Cesaro and Natalya and, as I said, don’t really get Orton’s appeal.

On screen we got a back stage segment that was hard to follow in the arena so didn’t totally grab my attention but the gist of Rollins being the cowardly heel still came across well.

Next we got a few almost pointless bits, which is a shame considering at least one person who was involved, Dean Ambrose.

Suicide Dive from Ambrose

Suicide Dive from Ambrose

Ambrose came out to a good reaction following Adam Rose. Rose got virtually no reaction beyond the crowd singing along to his theme tune and the match was over almost before it started as Ambrose destroyed Rose – though we did get to see a suicide dive which is an impressive move in the flesh.

This was followed by another on-screen bit between Kane and Big Show that again was hard to follow and, thanks to who was involved, a bit dull and then we got another quick match between Fandango and Stardust. Though chanting ‘Cody’ at Stardust was mildly diverting I remember very little else of the match itself and I think I was flagging a bit at this stage.

Fandango

Fandango

Thankfully Fandango gave us a little promo after the match and ditched his valet Rosa Mendes in order to bring the dance back to the crowd and we all got to Fandango along. I would imagine I wouldn’t have enjoyed this on TV but in the arena it was great fun!

Daniel Bryan and Kane had a backstage segment next that was a bit more engaging as it addressed Kane’s former ‘Demon’ role and Team Hell No before Seth Rollins made his way to the ring to a mixed but more positively sided reaction.

He was followed by Kane and they worked the match/segment well with Kane really showing why he’s been a mainstay for so long as his work is exceptional, really putting across his internal conflict between his corporate and demon sides well. While the story is something we’ve seen before it was well done and Rollins made Kane’s chokeslam look killer.

Kane chokeslams Rollins

Kane chokeslams Rollins

The outcome of the segment of Kane ‘lying down’ for Rollins was a bit uncomfortable following its reflection of old WCW, but it worked here as part of the story of Rollins being the cowardly, manipulative heel and actually gave Kane something a bit more interesting to do than stand behind the Authority looking not as tough as he used to (though a guy in his mid 40s he still looks exceptional and is pretty damn huge).

The Miz and Damien Mizdow continued their feud next with some great playing to the audience and an average match that saw Mizdow get sneaky roll up win, but unfortunately what could have been part of angle designed to elevate Mizdow and help re-elevate The Miz was part of something that seems ill thought out and not as engaging as I’d hoped it would be and could be.

Mizdow and Summer Rae celebrate

Mizdow and Summer Rae celebrate

Prime Time Players appeared on-screen next and cut another good promo ridiculing another heel tag team, this week it was Los Matadores.

The promo was good fun and put PTP over well, the highlight for me was Darren Young saying rainbows were his favourite colour, WWE actually acknowledging and openly gay wrestler (even in this minor and obvious way) is amazing considering some of their depiction of gay characters in the past.

Luke Harper and Ryback were out next for another pointlessly short match that saw Harper get himself disqualified before Ambrose ran in to try to attack him, though even that felt a bit flat.

Ryback powerbombs Harper

Ryback powerbombs Harper

Much like the Miz/Mizdow feud the Ambrose/Harper one seems a bit directionless and the crowd weren’t hugely into anyone here, as fatigue was setting in – though I was pleased to see Harper.

Backstage Naomi explains here attack on Paige earlier in the night, cementing her new heel character before the nearest to a main event match the TV show got begins.

Dolph Ziggler came to the ring and the crowd were right back into it again after the rather flat previous segments and he worked the crowd excellently before issuing an open challenge that was taken up by another ‘hometown’ (super)hero – Adrian Neville.

Adrian Neville

Adrian Neville

The reaction for Neville was huge and it was a full on face vs face match as the two men put on a great show. Neville took a sick looking DDT bump early in the match that looked like it might actually have injured him (seemingly he was fine though, great work Neville) and the two went back and forth.

Neville brought the big highlights to the match with a top rope Asai moonsault and astonishing 450 splash of the guard rail that was the highlight move of the night for me.

In the end the back and forth ended with Ziggler getting the win with a nice Zig Zag after taking a sick sounding enziguri and avoiding a Red Arrow (that again showed of Neville’s amazing athleticism).

Neville going for an Asai moonsault

Neville going for an Asai moonsault

This whole match was the highlight of the night and hopefully will show Neville can perform at this level (like anyone who watches NXT knows) and we will see him back up with the likes of Ziggler soon.

The show was rounded off with an in ring promo setting up the main event for Extreme Rules between Seth Rollins and Randy Orton. Ending a show on a promo rarely works for me but, thankfully, Seth was on great form and his comedy work with just a lazy boy and J&J Security to play with was exceptional and continued to build his heel status.

The show ended up, after a few good, genuine, laughs, with Randy Orton hitting the RKO on J&J while Seth did his scaredy cat run to the back with the Championship belt and Randy posed for the crowd.

After show

Orton and Rollins face off

Orton and Rollins face off

With the TV portion of the show ending on that in the arena we got treated to a bonus match of Bryan, Ziggler and Ambrose taking on Show, Sheamus and Harper.

Bryan got a big reaction and it was good to the ‘Yes!’ chants along with him but for the most part the match belonged to Big Show and the crowd who played back and forth off each other brilliantly and I gained a new respect for what Show is capable of – even if he never gets to show it on TV.

The match was mostly Ziggler getting worked over before getting hot tag to Bryan who ran through his ‘moves of doom’ before winning with the Yes Lock – at the time I was disappointed we didn’t get to see more of Bryan but with news breaking of the potential recurrence of his neck injury his work in the match makes more sense and I just hope he is ok.

In the end my first experience of a WWE TV show was a very good one with the show featuring a nice mix of action and some good promo work and surprisingly good comedy/entertainment spots. Being part of a very lively crowd was also good fun just like it is at the best gigs.

In future though I know to try to get seats lower down the arena but that was a small niggle in a great night that showed how WWE tread the line of pro-wrestling and entertainment. I’m still not sure how it all came across on TV but in the arena it was great fun, though I still think the three-hour format of Raw is a bit too long to keep real momentum going.

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WrestleMania 31 – 29/03/15

Westlemania 31 poster31 years since the birth of Hulkamania WWE brought its ‘Showcase of the Immortals’ to San Jose, California for one of the most hyped WrestleManias of all time.

Clocking in at 6 hours, including the two pre-show segments, it was also the longest WrestleMania to date and the first to be almost entirely reliant on the existence of the WWE Network and in this, and other respects, it seemed to be the beginning of a new chapter in the history of WWE and mainstream pro-wrestling – following last year’s subsequently somewhat stalled attempt at the same.

Pre-show

The first hour of the pre-show was essentially the standard warm-up fare with hype packages for the big matches and few backstage segments. The only real thing of note was the nicely played cameo of Vince McMahon’s old pair of stooges, Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco, as they had a brief run in with J&J Security, their current equivalents who stand alongside Seth Rollins.

Also the appearance of Lana with Rusev continued their storyline nicely leading into the match later with John Cena and the video package for Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt, using Johnny Cash’s When The Man Comes Around, showed what WWE can do with hyping matches when they are at their best.

The second hour of the pre-show is where things really began as it moved from the free format of YouTube and onto the WWE Network (that’s $9.99 a month, as they have been drilling into us for the last year!) and we got a couple of matches along with some more hype and some #AskLita segments which, while it’s always good to see Lita back on-screen, were a bit pointless.

Tag Team Championships: Tyson Kidd and Cesaro (w/ Natalya) (c) vs The Usos (w/Naomi) vs The New Day (w/Xavier Woods) vs El Matadores (w/ El Torito)

Cesaro takes a superkick

Cesaro takes a superkick

With the doors having only been open for an hour the near 80,000 strong crowd were still making their way in as the teams made their way out with slightly truncated entrances, but it wasn’t long before the audience really got into this.

An injury to one of the Usos was well covered as Cesaro threw him into the barricade and he was helped out leaving his brother to go it alone, but, with the amount of people already around the ring, this really didn’t matter.

The crowd really got into it with chants for the Swiss Superman and some great clap along ‘New Day Sucks’ chants as Woods tried to get a positive chant going for his team.

The match flew from spot to spot excellently with only one or two minor loose moments and no major botches to speak of, which is always impressive for a spot fest like this.

With bodies flying over the ropes and all sorts of other spots it was a fun, psychology free, affair that warmed the crowd up a treat and ended on a great double-triple-top-rope superplex spot and showed that Cesaro and Kidd are by far the most over team on the main roster and really none of the other teams came across as potential contenders at all.

Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal

Hideo Itami eliminates Bo Dallas

Hideo Itami eliminates Bo Dallas

After an initial big build up this match was dropped to the pre-show and, once it got going, it was obvious why.

Battle royals are always a challenging affair as, with so many people in the ring, the first three-quarters of the match are generally hard to follow and this was no different, though there were a few nice spots featuring Zack Ryder, Hideo Itami and others.

The crowd also seemed really into Itami which was great to hear and a bit of a theme for the whole show of just quite how over NXT has become in recent months.

Unfortunately most of those being cheered for were soon eliminated (Curtis Axel, Itami, Ryder and others) and it became an excuse for the bigger guys to show off despite the crowd clearly not being into them.

Sandow sends Miz over the top

Sandow sends Miz over the top

The exception was Ryback who got some good cheers, though I’ve yet to work out why, but even he didn’t seem over like the more ‘underdog’ performers and his elimination of The Ascension continued to prove that once on the main roster no one seems to know what to do with the NXT performers.

The match ended with some nice stuff between The Miz and Mizdow which will hopefully lead to a career making feud for the highly talented Sandow (Mizdow) but it was all ultimately won by Big Show in an inexplicably pointless bit of booking that saw an old, past it, out of shape, performer go over at the expense of future stars who could have been made here.

Main show

After a decent rendition of America The Beautiful which didn’t go on too much or feel too xenophobic (they were saving that for later) and an odd intro video featuring LL Cool J, for reasons I’ve yet to fathom, the main show kicked off with a bang as Daniel Bryan made his way to ring for the Intercontinental Ladder match.

Intercontinental Championship: Wade Barrett (c) vs Daniel Bryan vs Dolph Ziggler vs Dean Ambrose vs Luke Harper vs R-Truth vs Stardust

Ambrose take a dive

Ambrose take a dive

Much like the tag team title match this was clearly positioned as a high energy spot fest to get the crowd warmed up and kick off the show with something strong as the audience continued to file into the stadium.

It was clear the Ambrose, Bryan and Ziggler were the wrestlers the crowd cared about and, if I’m honest the presence of Truth, Stardust and even Harper was mostly window dressing.

All men hit some big spots over and around the ropes to the floor early on and it all look surprisingly, and thankfully, safe. As things went on Stardust pulled out a sparkly ladder and, in a nice new spot, Barret broke off one of the rungs and used it as a particularly stiff looking weapon.

Sick powerbomb on Ambrose

Sick powerbomb on Ambrose

Much like many multi-person ladder matches this one suffered from two things.

The first is that we have seen so many of these matches now the spots are often just retreads of what we’ve seen before and the other was something that would mar the whole show – that the commentary team seemed totally in over the heads to actually explain anything that was going on in an exciting and coherent way.

That said there was some nice stuff as Wade Barret hit a nice range of Bullhammer elbows, Dean Ambrose took a sick powerbomb through a ladder, that clearly had both the audience in the stadium and at home concerned, and the matches climax of Bryan and Ziggler slugging it out on top of the ladder was simple, stiff looking and effective and I hope sets up a future feud between the two.

Daniel Bryan

Daniel Bryan

Bryan winning the match felt very odd at the time, as did the outcome of other early matches on the card, but in context of the show as a whole, it seems like a good thing as it gives Bryan a (hopefully) solid position.

Having a slightly bigger star as champion should also help elevate the Intercontinental Championship a little more.

It may be wishful thinking but this state of affairs could easily see the belts put back into their rightful positions like they are in the current NXT setting.

Randy Orton vs Seth Rollins (w/ J&J Security)

Rollins hits Avada Kedavra on Orton

Rollins hits Avada Kedavra on Orton

After the IC title match we were straight into what felt, in the build up, like it should have been one of the top matches on the card as ‘The Face’ squared off against ‘The Future’.

Unfortunately I’ve always found Orton hard to take as a face, his general cocky nature, even here, and the whole ‘hearing voices that make him hurt people’ gimmick isn’t really a good guy thing so this felt like heel vs heel, but thankfully two heels who can both do different and engaging things.

As the match went on J&J Security got dealt with effectively by Orton and Rollins really put in the lion’s share of the big moments (as was to be expected) with suicide dives, Asai moonsaults and an attempted phoenix splash all being memorable ‘high spots’.

Orton prepares for an astonishing RKO

Orton prepares for an astonishing RKO

Story wise the match also went well with each man surviving the others finisher and it built to a great climax and one of the best reversals into an RKO I’ve ever seen leading to Orton picking up the win.

As Orton posed in victory this felt like another moment of the new stars being pushed down in favour of already established names, a counter intuitive thing to do, but this became less of an issue in this match thanks to what was to come.

In the end, while this was a good match it didn’t quite electrify like it seems it should have, though several moments, particularly that RKO, will go down as classic WrestleMania moments.

Triple H vs Sting

The build up to this match had felt like the build up to a story that began in early 2001 when WWE finally saw off its main competition WCW, and, as was hyped here, this was ‘the last remnant of WCW’ finally facing off with the man at the top of WWE, sort of.

Triple H and Sting prepare for battle

Triple H and Sting prepare for battle

We didn’t get to this though until after both men had come to the ring, first out was Sting, which felt a bit backwards. His troupe of Japanese drummers didn’t really make much sense and seeing the dark, Crow-style, character come out in daylight also felt wrong, so we were off to an odd start.

The crowd also seemed more intrigued and interested in him than genuinely excited, so he wasn’t greeted with as big a pop as I was expecting, but maybe we’re just 13 years too late – this is a feeling that would recur at the conclusion of the match.

After a baffling Terminator promo video Triple H emerged from the stage surrounded by an army of the cyborgs in his most ridiculous and least effective WrestleMania entrance yet. Obviously linked in with the previous night’s induction of Arnold Schwarzenegger into the WWE Hall of Fame, this whole sequence felt forced and again didn’t work in the broad daylight of a Californian afternoon.

Sting applies the Scorpion Death Lock

Sting applies the Scorpion Death Lock

Once Motorhead’s The Game kicked in though we were on more familiar ground and Triple H, as always, looked the part of a conquering barbarian king as he marched to the ring.

Once that was all done and the two men faced off in the ring things started well with the two going back and forth and Sting hitting a great dropkick and generally looking amazing for a man of 56 as “You’ve still got it” chants from the crowd backed this up.

This back and forth reached a quick crescendo as, after some outside brawling, Sting went for the Scorpion Death Lock submission hold and D-Generation X’s music hit.

Triple H hits the Pedigree

Triple H hits the Pedigree

The New Age Outlaws and X-Pac ran in and Sting fought them back but, as Triple H capitalised and went for the Pedigree the nWo theme kicked in and out came The Outsiders and Hulk Hogan, somewhat slower than their DX counterparts.

From here on in the match became a surreal mess as Shawn Michaels showed up too, just to cap things off, and Triple H picked up the win, while commentators JBL and Michael Cole buried WCW, a company that went out of business over a decade ago.

If you’ve read my review of WrestleMania X8 you’ll know my view on the nWo becoming obsolete by 2002 and here, what seemed geared to be a nostalgic moment, fell totally flat for me.

Sting connects with the Stinger Splash

Sting connects with the Stinger Splash

This was because we’ve seen all of these men (except Sting) in similar ‘nostalgia act’ situations so many times before and the link between Sting and the nWo is far from the tight relationsip between Triple H and D-X, so it just came across as an overbooked mess where it should have been a triumphant moment for long time pro-wrestling fans.

I can only think this falls into category of a McMahon family ego trip moment, but unfortunately felt rather like the sort of event that was happening in the dying days of WCW…

Following that we got a musical performance that, as ever, went down like a lead balloon with the crowd who treated this time, half way through the show, as a rest break, and, to be honest I don’t blame them. Though a regular part of WrestleMania now, live music performances never really work in context and this was no different.

AJ Lee & Paige vs Nikki and Brie Bella

Superkick from Paige

Superkick from Paige

After the Sting/Triple H fiasco it was going to take something to get me back into it and, as Paige made her way out I was hopeful, following the recent development of the ‘Divas’ division, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Across the match the four ladies told a great story and, while it didn’t live up to what’s happening on NXT, it is clear that the stellar women’s matches there are having an effect. In that regard we got some nice moments including a top rope dropkick and a steel stair spot and the match as a whole probably last longer than the last five years worth of WrestleMania Divas matches.

Brie Bella with a flying dropkick

Brie Bella with a flying dropkick

Once again the commentary entirely failed to add anything to the match but the in-ring action stepped up well and, while the bigger story isn’t the most clear, it was an enjoyable and well put together match and hopefully a sign of things to come for the ladies on the main roster.

The traditional Hall of Fame recap came next and, while the ceremony itself was a bit on the long side, it was great seeing some of these guys on stage here.

Bushwhacker Butch in particular deserves respect for even making it onto stage and still being a lot of fun and into the whole thing despite his obvious ill-health, Lanny Poffo was hugely respectful and respectable representing his brother Macho Man Randy Savage and even Kevin Nash managed to not milk it too much showing that, like Scott Hall, maybe he has changed and once again sees his place within pro-wrestling in a more humble light.

United States Championship: Rusev (w/Lana) (c) vs John Cena

Rusev on a tank!

Rusev on a tank!

One of the moments of the night came next as Rusev made his entrance as part of a mock, Soviet-style, rally complete with marching troops, an artillery salute and Rusev himself riding in on a tank.

Moments like this, where pro-wrestling steps beyond regular logic and into a world of utter silliness, are hit and miss but here, it was all delivered with such a straight face it was amazing and actually got me into the feud more than anything else over the past few months and had me rooting for the Bulgarian Brute throughout.

Cena had an equally over the top entrance video, but, unfortunately, it came across like a jingoistic, pro-American, Republican party political broadcast, and only served to amplify my dislike of Cena and his Never Give Up washcloth thing he brings to the ring (doesn’t quite match up to riding in on a tank does it).

Rusev and Cena face off

Rusev and Cena face off

The match itself started well with Rusev in monster mode before Cena got into his moves of doom and then it was a good back and forth with both men focusing on their respective submissions, The Accolade (Camel Clutch) for Rusev and STF(U) for Cena.

As it went on the crowd seemed to get behind Rusev and he hit a great top rope diving headbutt for a near fall.

It all ended, after Cena broke out of the Accolade, with a very loose and unconvincing AA (is there any other sort?) that saw Cena win the US Championship and Rusev go off on his manager Lana, who’s attempted interference caused the loss.

Cena's first move of doom

Cena’s first move of doom

Much like the Daniel Bryan win earlier in the night I’m hoping having a bigger star with a lower belt is used well to elevate the title and breathe some new excitement into the mid card scene.

This section of the card, while it has a lot of good performers, hasn’t had much for them to really get their teeth into in for a while, and it would be nice if it breathed some fresh life into the painfully stale John Cena character.

Following this we headed back up to the pre-show team for some highlights of those matches and all the while the crowd are letting loose with some huge ‘N-X-T’ chants – I get the feeling that the ‘developmental’ brand is a lot more over than anyone in WWE thought and the whole WrestleMania weekend has proved it, and then Triple H and Stephanie McMahon are in the ring.

Rhonda Rousey with a hip throw on Triple H

Rhonda Rousey with a hip throw on Triple H

As they announce the ‘official attendance’ for the event of 76,976 Stephanie went into an excellent heel promo that put The Authority back into position of top heels following the confusing ending of Triple H’s match earlier and showed that she really is her father’s successor – though a Shane-O-Mac chant later in the segment was nice to hear.

Mid flow she was interrupted by The Rock who was on fire on the mic, as always, and the segment culminated in a tease of Rock vs Triple H (for next year’s Mania maybe?) and the involvement of UFC star Ronda Rousey was surprisingly effective and made this segment much more than I think anyone expected when it started.

Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt

Undertaker squares off with Bray Wyatt

Undertaker squares off with Bray Wyatt

The ‘New Face of Fear’ made his way out next with a great entrance involving zombie scarecrows that continued to build the creepy character that Wyatt is so good at delivering.

What we were all waiting for though was the man who came out next, a year after his last appearance Undertaker’s walk to the ring was surprisingly simple, but, even in the still day light conditions, was as effective as always and it was clear Taker was looking better than he was 12 months ago.

Along with this Wyatt’s performance of staring down The Deadman really helped set the psychology and story of this match up long before the bell.

Undertaker and Bray Wyatt

Undertaker sits up after Sister Abigail

The match itself was a great example of using strengths to tell a story, we know Taker is now fallible but he is still somewhat of a monster, but Wyatt also came across stronger than ever before and some nice moves like a big uranage really putting him over.

With finishers hit and kicked out off the best moment of the match was when Taker sat up mid-Wyatt spider walk and, with a second tombstone, The Deadman went 22-and-1.

This was a fine example of how to make a new guy look great, while keeping the legacy of the Undertaker alive. How much life is left in Taker’s career remains to be seen and, personally, I’d like to see one more match next year to round it off and send him out on a high in his home state as WWE finally establishes its new generation.

WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Brock Lesnar (w/Paul Heyman) (c) vs Roman Reigns

Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns get ready for a war

Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns get ready for a war

To say this match had stirred up its fair share of controversy and debate among pro-wrestling fans would be an understatement so, as ‘face’ Roman Reigns made his way out, flanked by a legion of security and to a chorus of boos and ‘heel’ Brock Lesnar strode out to cheers, this had a genuine big fight, main event feel, that even WrestleMania main events sometimes struggle to attain.

As soon as the bell rang the match was a stiff showing of strikes and throws with Lesnar dominant as expected, but, unlike his match with Cena at SummerSlam last year, this felt like a pro-wrestling match with a story to tell.

German suplex to Reigns

German suplex to Reigns

Roman got his licks in, cutting Lesnar early on, and then smiling and laughing in the face of the beating, infuriating The Beast, and both men played it off brilliantly, and even the commentary, finally, helped develop the story.

With more than 10 suplexes, three F5’s, a number of superman punches and two spears, and Brock Lesnar bleeding more than anyone in WWE has in a decade, the match was reaching a climax point that was genuinely hard to call when Seth Rollins’ music hit and Mr Money In The Bank hit the ring and cashed in.

With Curbstomps for both men, Rollins’ pinned Reigns for the title and took his place next to Edge as best and most convincing use of the Money In The Bank yet rounding off a mixed WrestleMania on a real high point and ushering in a new top level of talent for the company

Rollins sets up to Curbstomp Lesnar

Rollins sets up to Curbstomp Lesnar

Conclusions

A year before WrestleMania 31 a lot of seeds were sown for a new era in WWE and many of those have now begun to reach fruition. This show felt like a WrestleMania, which they don’t always, and while it wasn’t the best ever (that honour still goes to 17) it was a strong one.

What it really left me thinking though was that it has acted as a reset for the main roster with new and (for the most part) fresh champions and angles coming out of the show and, generally, without making anyone look weak – with the exception of the pointless booking of the battle royal and the stand alone exhibition of Triple H and Sting.

With the set up as it is now we can look forward to a great heel World Champion on TV regularly giving Rollins and Reigns a chance to elevate themselves further, and hopefully add some legitimacy to the so far forced character of Reigns.

WWE Championship belt customised for Seth Rollins

WWE Championship belt customised for Seth Rollins

We can also see Daniel Bryan rule the mid card with great newer performers like Ambrose and Harper (and Ziggler as well) while John Cena can, hopefully, find something new in his new mid card role.

While this is going on Lesnar remains a monster who can do his part-time destruction thing far more effectively, though quite who in WWE can face up to him now he’s gone through Triple H and Undertaker remains to be seen.

Now all we need are some reasonable tag teams to contend with Kidd and Cesaro.

As a show, WrestleMania 31 took a while to make sense, but once it did and the pieces fell into place it was very enjoyable, with the exception of the nonsense of Sting vs Triple H and the battle royal, but it has succeeded in getting me far more invested with what could be coming next than I thought I would be when the show began.

On top of this, let’s be honest, there isn’t another wrestling company in the world who can put on a show with this much star power, performances and spectacle all rolled into one – now, let Rollins run with this and WWE could be heading into another heyday!

Seth Rollins - WWE World Heavyweight Champion

Seth Rollins – The new WWE World Heavyweight Champion

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Royal Rumble 2015

Royal Rumble 2015 posterSo, here’s my second attempt at reviewing a current WWE show following last year’s NXT Takeover: Fatal4Way – this is the first step on the so-called ‘Road To WrestleMania’ and has already proved to be WWE’s most controversial show in a good while, at the very least since last year’s edition, this is the 2015 Royal Rumble!

Coming from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a town renowned for its rowdy wrestling crowds, the controversy was to come much later, so the majority of the undercard were, largely, celebrated for their efforts.

The first match pitted newcomers The Ascension against old hands, returning for (hopefully) a one-off, The New Age Outlaws. From the start the crowd were into the Outlaws shtick, which is always nice to hear again for nostalgia’s sake, and, along with Viktor and Konnor put on a reasonable show for their five minutes in the ring. Billy Gunn once again demonstrated that he can still go pretty well, while Road Dogg didn’t really do a great deal, but carried his end.

My main interest though was in the newcomers who, for the past few weeks, have been lumbered with a story of insulting great tag teams of the past in some cringe-worthy segments, while destroying unknowns. Here though a glimmer of their time in NXT came through, despite the best efforts of JBL burying them on commentary, and they soon hit their impressive finisher, The Fall Of Man, to pin Billy Gunn.

The Ascension

The Ascension

While the match was a bit sloppy the end should have given The Ascension a boost heading out of this angle, hopefully setting up a feud with a possible returning team hinted at later in the show, but some messy commentary from Michael Cole left it feeling a bit flat – I just hope Konnor and Viktor get the chance to be the monster heels they’ve already proved they can be now they’re on this bigger stage.

Next up came the first championship match of the show with the World Tag Team Championship up for grabs. While the match in the ring saw The Usos defending against The Miz and Damien ‘Mizdow’ the whole 10 minutes was really about the interaction between Mizdow and the crowd.

While we were treated to all the spots we’ve come to expect for this quartet as they have faced off time and again in recent months, the former ‘Intellectual Saviour of the Masses’ and his relationship with the crowd was the highlight as he aped The Miz’s actions in the ring while his partner didn’t let him in, much to the audience’s chagrin (to use an old wrestling cliché).

Uso Crazy!

Uso Crazy!

The match ended on a decent little tag spot from the Usos but they once again didn’t really do anything new or engaging that we haven’t been watching for the last five years and I can only hope this feud is coming to an end and Miz and ‘Mizdow’ can go on to singles feud that escalates the clearly talented, and over, Damien Sandow, to at least solid mid-card status.

Along with the pre-show this was the third tag team match of the night, which, to me, seems like an odd way of putting a big show together. Ok, it means none of the wrestlers have to put in as much work, before appearing again later in the Royal Rumble (in the case of those who did) but it also suggests that, despite having a lot of good hands in their roster, WWE doesn’t really have a lot going on with them and away from the main event scene the stories seem to be somewhat lacking in any sense of depth.

Natalya Neidhart and Nikki Bella

Natalya Neidhart and Nikki Bella

Another tag team match followed, this time featuring the ‘divas’, specifically The Bella Twins against the new pairing of Natalya Neidhart and Paige. The majority of the match was geared around stories from WWE’s reality show Total Divas and if you bothered listening to the commentary it felt more like and advert for that than anything else.

As ever, with Natalya involved it was at least solid as she was linchpin of proceedings making for a decent match though I’m not sure it actually went anywhere in the end as Diva’s champ Nikki Bella pinned Natalya after a decent looking forearm smash and some good selling from the current generation of the legendary Hart family.

With the undercard out the way it was time for the matches that actually felt like they had some purpose as World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar defended against John Cena and Seth Rollins.

Seth Rollins, Brock Lesnar and John Cena

Seth Rollins, Brock Lesnar and John Cena

From the start the triple threat was non-stop action with Cena doing his usual, Brock throwing everyone in sight and Rollins really proving why his elevation to top, full-time, heel is a good move. As the match went on it rarely had the feel that most triple threats do of a rotating series of one of one segments as the three men used the entirety of the ringside area to its full extent.

Of course Lesnar was booked as the monster, taking multiple finishers and still coming back. In the end it seemed to be boiling down to Cena and Rollins squaring off after some great spots that saw Lesnar put through stairs, barricades and the dreaded Spanish announce table.

After back and forth finishers and a spectacular phoenix splash from Rollins, Lesnar returned from nowhere for some more German suplexes and an F5 leaving Brock as champ and therefore making up half of the main event at April’s WrestleMania.

Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins

Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins

Following a generally lackluster opening few matches the triple threat very much turned the tide and is a standout match in all senses and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s still being talked about come the end of the year. It also, hopefully, cemented Rollins as a top-level player so once Lesnar leaves WWE will at least have someone to try to fill the void he creates.

And so, onto the Royal Rumble match itself, don’t worry for the sake of everyone’s sanity I won’t go through this blow-by-blow, but pick out the crucial moments and highlights.

It started off pretty so-so before the shock return of Bubba Ray Dudley, most recently seen as Bully Ray in TNA, who looked better than ever and went through the Dudley Boys’ classic spots with R-Truth in place of an injured D-Von to a chorus of ‘ECW’ chants from the Philly crowd who were reveling in celebrating one of the their hardcore heroes.

Bubba Ray Dudley

Bubba Ray Dudley

We then got a nice spot with the former Wyatt family members squaring off which sadly wasted Luke Harper’s time in the ring as he was ousted by Bray with an assist of sorts from Erick Rowan (who wasn’t officially part of the match). This did though set up one of the Rumble’s stand out performances from Bray Wyatt who came across as a super strong character, like he hasn’t in a while, and I hope this will lead somewhere as Wyatt looks like he could be one of the best all rounders the company has at present.

Across the match we got our usual guest spot characters as Diamond Dallas Page arrived to show Randy Orton what an effective Diamond Cutter ‘out of nowhere’ really is and The Boogeyman had a fun sequence with Wyatt.

Daniel Bryan and Bray Wyatt

Daniel Bryan and Bray Wyatt

The story of the middle of the match though was that of the recently returned hyper-underdog Daniel Bryan who the crowd were behind 100% like no one else on the night. While he put in a good performance (as always) his elimination changed the mood in the arena in an instant and, to be honest, I felt sorry for pretty much everyone who came out after.

This reached its peak when Roman Reigns, long predicted to win this one, came out and went on to spend the next half hour actually doing very little of any real importance while the others in the ring did their best to put on a good match that had suddenly become painfully predictable.

Diamond Dallas Page and Bray Wyatt

Diamond Dallas Page and Bray Wyatt

One thing that was certainly missing from the Rumble was much in the way of new angles being developed, aside from Wyatt’s performance and a hint at something between Intercontinental Champion Bad News Barrett and Dean Ambrose everything else was just so much pointless brawling – even Kofi Kingston didn’t really get his now standard athletic surviving elimination spot, instead being ‘rescued’ by the Rosebuds in a pointless twist on his usual routine.

As the match neared its end the crowd clearly became increasingly incensed as veteran monsters Kane and Big Show demolished anyone else who the crowd was cheering for and, while this may on paper have looked like something that would build heat for The Authority, all it seemed to do was further antagonise the audience.

Big Show & Kane and Ambrose and Reigns

Big Show & Kane and Ambrose and Reigns

A brief respite from this was the pop The Rock received for his shock appearance but, once it became clear he was there to help Reigns, even The Great One couldn’t salvage things and the Rumble boiled down to heel Rusev getting cheered while face Reigns was booed and heckled as he won his spot against Lesnar at WrestleMania 31.

For the second year in a row it seemed WWE had misjudged the crowd at the Royal Rumble as what should be the beginning of an epic feud between their top good guy and top bad guy has started out with a chorus of boos (and worse) for the good guy and at least appreciation for the bad guy. Added to this is the fact that with Reigns needing help to win here and Lesnar surviving a truly epic beatdown, Reigns looks, less than ever, like a convincing challenge to the champion.

Whether this situation is turned round remains to be seen, and I’m not going to go into a tirade about what WWE may or may not ‘owe’ their fans, it just seems that in their current state they are like a runaway train with no real sense as where their actions today might lead tomorrow, let alone in two months time.

Roman Reigns and The Rock

Roman Reigns and The Rock

In the end the 2015 Royal Rumble was a mixed bag highlighted by the must see World Championship Triple Threat Match, but while the Rumble match itself had some good spots, it’s mostly recommended as a talking point more than an actual good match and it left the Road To WrestleMania looking like a very rocky one indeed, both on and off-screen.

Photos from WWE.com

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